The 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is full of engineering marvels. Many of these marvels are manifested as advances in robots. For example, consider UBTech highlights are this year’s show. The company’s intelligent humanoid service robot named “Walker” won the Best of CES 2019 and will be back with additional features at the 2020 show. According to the company, Walker will be faster and demonstrate more human-like walking as well as yoga poses that show its huge improvement in motion control. The robot will also demonstrate the ability to push a cart, draw pictures, and write characters, plus showing improved static balance with full-body compliance control.

There’s another robot system that the technical community might find equally interesting if a bit less flashy. France’s Pollen Robotics is displaying their “Reachy” robot at CES2020. In collaboration with the INCIA Neuroscience Institute in France, the company has developed a 3D-printed robot arm that’s 100% open source. Reachy is billed as an expressive humanoid service robot specializing in interacting with people and manipulating objects. This robot is built with prepackaged AI and modular robotics that should easily accommodate many real-world applications, such as extensions for disabled people (human augmentation), helping out at events (like CES), assisting small businesses and even as a receptionist.

According to the company, Reachy can be easily programmed in Python and offers ready-to-use operational environments for game play, serving coffee, making music, handing out specific objects, and more. The robot is also fully customizable with open hardware, software and data!

The company invites developers to join their open source community and participate on Github, although the company explains that Reachy is currently still under development. The open source hardware, software and data won’t be released until the robot is ready, toward the end Q1-2020.

Image source: Pollen Robots / Reachy

But what does it really mean to say a company or platform supports open hardware and software/  


If you google “technology trends,” one of the companies that will appear in the top 10 hits will be Gartner. The research and advisory firm not only analyzes numerous markets in terms of technical innovations but also covers business aspects of technology for C-suite professionals.

For 2020, Gartner has produced a number of predictive reports, including those covering digital and strategic technologies. From those lists, I’ve selected three trends that appear vaguely familiar from the recent past, albeit with new names. Do you agree? Don’t hesitate to ping me with your take on these trends at: [email protected]

Trend: Hyper Automation

Gartner: “Automation uses technology to automate tasks that once required humans. Hyper automation deals with the application of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to increasingly automate processes and augment humans. Hyper automation often results in the creation of a digital twin of the organization. As no single tool can replace humans, hyper automation today involves a combination of tools, including robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent business management software (iBPMS) and AI, with a goal of increasingly AI-driven decision making. 

My Take: Do we really need yet another word or phrase to represent the ongoing digitization process that will eventually enable a complete digital twin? One might just as well say that the creation of a digital twin – from improved modeling, simulations, sensors, etc. – have accelerated the pace of automation thus creating a new hypeautomoation or superautomation reality.

It’s really a chicken and egg perspective. Which came first – the creation of hyper automation systems that eventually result in a digital twin? Or did the creation of a digital twin from a sensor-rich ecosystem lead to improved automation of tasks previously performed by humans?

Regardless of the answer, there seems to be little doubt about the movement toward a more complete digital twin within the next decade. Mordor Intelligence predicts that the digital twin market is anticipated to witness a CAGR of 35.0% over the forecast period 2019 – 2024. Growth in IoT and cloud-based platforms, the surge in adoption of 3D printing technology in the manufacturing industry, and the objective to reduce project cost are some of the major factors, driving the growth for the digital twin market. Mordor notes that IoT sensors have created a potential space for engineers to test and communicate with sensors integrated with the operating products, hence delivering real-time prescriptive of system functioning and timely maintenance.

Which came first: Hyper automation or the digital twin? It’s your call.


Contributor and SMX speaker, Frederick Vallaeys, wants PPC practitioners in the pilot’s seat in 2020 and knows automation layering is the tool that will help drive better results.

Below is the video transcript:

Hey, I’m Fred Vallaeys, I’m the CEO and cofounder at Optmyzr.

So what’s going to happen in 2020? Well, I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of the automation taking over some of the things humans have been doing in PPC.

But I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think the way we as PPC practitioners can really earn our keep is to start with automation layering.

So let Google, let Microsoft figure out all the complicated, advanced artificial intelligence, machine learning and how to show our ads to a better audience and how to set the right bids. But we have to control it. We have to monitor it, right?

If you think of yourself as the PPC pilot, the one who’s in charge of that plane and steering it and making sure the right date is going in, the right decisions are being made. It’s fundamentally a question of automation layering.

So how do you build a little script? A little automation that keeps track of what Google is doing. And if it sees that it’s kind of going far afield and maybe there’s a close variant match that you don’t think it’s a great one. How do you bring that back in? Right.

You can write a simple automation that alerts you to this so that it can go make a manual change. Where you could do something more sophisticated, right? A Google Ads script that automatically figures out when this is happening and then puts in negative keywords.

So this whole concept of automation layering and basically saying like, listen, how do we want to control in a world of more automated PPC? And how do we want to control these accounts and what automation can be put in place even if they’re not super sophisticated to just put us back in charge of PPC and drive even better results. So that’s what I think about 2020.

More predictions for 2020

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Frederick (“Fred”) Vallaeys was one of the first 500 employees at Google where he spent 10 years building AdWords and teaching advertisers how to get the most out of it as the Google AdWords Evangelist.
Today he is the Cofounder of Optmyzr, an AdWords tool company focused on unique data insights, One-Click Optimizations™, advanced reporting to make account management more efficient, and Enhanced Scripts™ for AdWords. He stays up-to-speed with best practices through his work with SalesX, a search marketing agency focused on turning clicks into revenue. He is a frequent guest speaker at events where he inspires organizations to be more innovative and become better online marketers.


So what were the big issues in manufacturing over the past year. As I looked over our coverage, I was surprised to see an unexpected trend emerge. It was the blending of PLM into design and manufacturing software, nor was it the rising importance of the digital twin. Not cyber security, not IoT, not robotics. Not even 5G.

The overriding theme was automation and the workforce. The issues were varied. How will companies cover for retiring knowledge workers? Are Millennials and Generation Z ready to take over the plant? Do we have enough train workers to run smart manufacturing technology?

Check out these stories to see the details of the challenges and the industry’s readiness to meet these challenges.

 Automation Suppliers Back OPC UA 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: OPC Foundation)

 OPC UA TSN looks to leverage gigabit Ethernet bandwidth and Time Sensitive Networking to deliver open networking solutions for smart factories.

Free E-Book: The Landscape of Industrial Manufacturing and Warehouse Robots 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control

(Image source: Southwest Research Institute)

It’s cobots 101: In this e-book we’re going to clear up the differences between traditional manufacturing robots and collaborative robots.

Prepping the Workforce for Smart Automation 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Applied Manufacturing Technologies)

Companies can ensure successful deployment of automation by getting buy-in from the workforce and offering retraining. Without the buy-in, workers won’t use the technology.

3 Challenges Collaborative Robots Need to Overcome 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: TUV Rheinland)

As the market for collaborative robots expands, the industry faces challenges in developing safety regulations as well as some other key areas. The three changes are safety, security, and staffing.

Only 5% of Mid-Size Manufacturers Are Implementing Industry 4.0 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: BDO)

A new survey finds, in spite of competitive pressure, mid-size manufacturers are late in their build-out of smart manufacturing technology.

Trade Tensions Disrupt Supply Chains 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
 (Image source: Fictiv)

With trade tariffs escalating – particularly with China – manufacturers are seeking alternative hardware supplies, often shifting to US suppliers.

Rise of the Augmented Worker 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Autmentir)

 At the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing Show yesterday, Chris Kuntz of Augmentir explained how augmented reality and artificial intelligence are changing how manufacturing workers learn their jobs.

Manufacturers Turn to Automation to Combat Labor Shortages 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: MFG.com)

Manufacturing report reveals companies and their suppliers are experiencing prosperity while also facing labor challenges. For many, the solution is greater automation.

(Image source: MFG.com)

Retiring Knowledge Workers May Get Replaced with Technology 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
 (Image source: Catalyic)

 As Baby Boomers retire and take their knowledge with them as they leave manufacturing facilities, their replacements may be hardware and software run by kids.

Is Generation Z Ready for Plant-Floor Technology? 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Leading2Lean)

Leading2Lean’s Manufacturing Index reveals that Generation Z is interested in manufacturing, but the industry needs to fight for the young generation’s attention and participation.

Solve Process Problems Before Adding Smart Automation 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Applied Manufacturing Technologies)

 Companies struggle when they add smart manufacturing tools to faulty processes. Process problems have to be solved before the benefits of advanced manufacturing and be reaped.

Here Comes the Tech Future for Design and Manufacturing 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Siemens)

Siemens PLM has changed its name to Siemens Digital Industries Software to reflect its wider technology range. Design News sat down with Tony Hemmelgarn, the CEO of the newly named company, to talk about the expansion of industrial technology.

“Batch-of-One” and “Ease-of-Use” – The Top Keywords at PackExpo 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Emerson)

The twin themes of this year’s PackExpo packaging tradeshow were ease-of-use and mass customization. These long sought-after goals are here today, and they were on display at PackExpo.

Someday We May Make Robots Out of Smaller Robots 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Georgia Tech /  Rob Fwelt

 New research from the Georgia Institute of Technology is pointing to a future where we may use simple robots as the components for more complex and highly-adaptable ones.

Robot Democratization: A Machine for Every Manufacturer 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Universal Robots)

Robots are cheaper and easier to use. They’re within reach for small manufacturers. Add to that a tight job market, and robot deployments are moving down the manufacturing chain.

Manufacturing Contraction: How Will It Affect Advanced Manufacturing? 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: ISM)

We’re two months into a US manufacturing contraction. What will that mean for smart manufacturing investments and jobs? BDO’s Eskander Yavar takes on these questions.

Industrial 5G: Impact on Factory Automation 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control
(Image source: Siemens)

Automation and control applications are sharply in focus as one of primary beneficiaries of new 5G wireless network technologies.

The Industry 4.0 Blueprint Is Being Rewritten by Startups 

Startups are leading the charge towards Industry 4.0. But that doesn’t mean established companies can’t also adapt.

Edge computing key industrial automation trend in 2020 

manufacturing, top manufacturing stories, automation and control

(Image source: Industrial Internet Consortium)

 IoT communication solutions are evolving toward edge computing architectures where edge nodes and gateways provide connectivity between IoT devices, subsystems and data centers.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!


What do these topics have in common?

  1. The Future of Fiber Optic Communications: Datacenter and Mobile
  2. Design for Security: The Next Frontier of Smart Silicon
  3. Microchips in Space: How Device Design Enables Amazing Astronomy

The answer is that all use microchips and microsystems but in very different ways and for differing motivations.

In the first one, complex system-on-chips (SoC) are integrated with fiber optics to enable dizzyingly fast high-speed connections between processors, memory storage, and interfaces in data rooms and mobile devices across the world.

With so much going on in the world of fiber optic communications, it’s important for designers to keep up to date with the basic engineering issues. The catalyst for this interest is that the global fiber optics market is predicted to grow from 5 billion USD in 2018 to 9 billion USD by the end of 2025.

In his upcoming keynote at Designcon 2020, Chris Cole, VP of Advanced Development at II-VI, will discuss past trends and new developments in fiber optics for datacenter and mobile applications. Two ongoing trends are the replacement of copper wires by fiber optics in the data room as well as the replacement of direct detection by coherent detection in optical systems.

Cole will also explain the major limitations of power and density in communications, and new technologies like Silicon Photonics (SiPh) and co-packaging. Silicon photonics involves the study of optical properties of the group-IV semiconductor and how it can be used to generate, manipulate and detect light. Silicon is prevalent in photodetectors and solar cells, among other technologies.

To learn more, visit: The Future of Fiber Optic Communications: Datacenter

Image Source: Imec

Here’s a look at the remaining major EDA tool companies after years of consolidation.

  • The EDA market continues to consolidate. At this year’s 2019 Design Automation Conference (DAC), Rich Valera from Needham and Company noted that since the collapse of the tech bubble in the early 2000’s, the EDA market has been all about consolidation.

    “Many larger scale private companies, including multiple “near IPO’s” – e.g., Denali, Tensilica, Apache, and Spyglass (Atrenta), – have been bought before going public in the last 15 years,” explained Valera. “It goes without saying that the EDA industry has become very concentrated, one could argue an oligopoly, with most of the revenue driven by 3 major companies.”

    The above graphic does not include many of the more recent consolidations:

    Cadence acquisition of AWR from National InstrumentsInphi Corp acquired the majority of eSiliconSynopsys acquired DINI Group, QTronic GmbH and certain assets of eSiliconDassault Systemes acquisition of CST

    The number of private EDA startup company exits through acquisitions or going public (IPOs) has been declining, which is probably attributed to fewer companies being formed. Additionally, the time to exit for startup EDA companies has generally been well over 10 years. This is a long time period for most startups and their investors, which may explain the modest amount of venture capital funding flowing into EDA.

  • It would seem that the main EDA tool vendors have formed an oligopoly, i.e., Synopsys, Cadence and Mentor Graphics (recently acquired by Siemens PLM). According to Valera, one might expect to see less competition, reduced investment and a push to maximize profits – say, as opposed to growing into new markets. This has not been the case. Rather, the combined Cadence/Synopsys research and development (R&D) budget has been on a generally upward trend over the last 10 years, which is a positive activity as it relates to job growth.

    The three major EDA companies have realized healthy growth thanks to their movement into new application areas like autonomous vehicle electronics, ongoing advancement and roll-outs in industrial and commercial IOT, AI and edge-cloud computing.

    What about the other EDA tool vendors? According to Crunchhub, there are 132 organizations listed as semiconductor EDA companies, not including fabs like TSMC and OEMs like Intel. But we don’t need to consider all EDA companies to understand what makes up this industry. Instead, let’s consider the top 8 EDA tool providers.

  • Synopsys

    In 1986, a small synthesis startup called Optimal Solutions was created by a team of engineers from GE Microelectronics Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The team included Dr. de Geus, who would later become the CEO. Shortly thereafter, the company moved to Mountain View, Calif., to become Synopsys (for SYNthesis and OPtimization SYStems). Their first task was to focus on commercializing an automated logic synthesis “Design Compiler” tool. Today, Synopsys has a suite of chip design and verification tools plus verification intellectual property (IP).

    One of the significant announcements from Synopsys in 2019 was the completion of its acquisition of the DINI Group, an FPGA-based boards and solutions company. SoC designers are deploying FPGA-based prototyping platforms to enable rapid software development in automotive, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and high-performance computing (HPC) applications.

    DINI’s FPGA boards are frequently used to create a complete logic prototyping system that can emulate up to 130 million ASIC gates with over 20 FPGAS.

  • Cadence Design Systems

    Two small startups that emerged in the early 1980’s – Solomon Design Automation and ECAD – grew and merged to form Cadence Design Systems in 1988. Shortly thereafter, Cadence bought Gateway Design Automation, a developer of the Verilog hardware description language. A year later Cadence put Verilog into the public domain, and it became the most widely used hardware description language. In the ensuring year, Cadence pushed into the custom/analog design automation tool market and later IC layout automation.

    Today, Cadence offers a broad portfolio of tools to address an array of challenges related to custom IC / Analog / RF Design, digital, IC package, and PCB design and system-level verification.

    One of the more interesting announcements in 2019 was the introduction of a complete electrical-thermal co-simulation solution for ICs to physical enclosures. The thermal solver integrated with the company’s IC, package and PCB implementation platforms. Design insights from the solver will help design teams detect and mitigate thermal issues early in the design process, thus reducing electronic system development iterations.

  • Mentor Graphics (A Siemens PLM Company)

    Mentor Graphics was founded in 1981 by a small group of engineers in Oregon. All had left Tektronix to form Mentor Graphics, one of the first commercial EDA companies, along with Daisy Systems and Valid Logic Systems. Mentor Graphics was also the first EDA company that had its software run on a non-proprietary hardware system, i.e., the Apollo Computer workstations.

    Today, the company offers chip design, PCB design, systems, automotive, CAE Simulation and Test and Embedded tools. Mentor is involved in EDA, printed circuit board and system-of-system level design.

    One of the announcements this year was in the area of high-level-synthesis (HLS) for edge computing networks. The challenge is that moving machine learning to the edge has critical requirements on power and performance. Using off-the-shelf solutions like CPUs or GPUs are too slow or too expensive, respectively. Even generic machine learning accelerators can be overbuilt and are not optimal for power. That’s why HLS tools can help create new power/memory efficient hardware architectures to meet machine learning hardware demands at the edge.


    Ansys was founded in 1970 by John Swanson. In 1996, the company went public. During the next five years, Ansys made numerous acquisitions to gain additional technology for fluid dynamics, electronics design, and other physics analysis.

    The company develops and markets engineering simulation software used to design products and semiconductors, as well as to create simulations that test a product’s durability, temperature distribution, fluid movements, and electromagnetic properties.

    As an example of the company’s simulation capabilities, TURBOTECH is using Ansys fluids tools to potentially redesign aeronautical propulsion. TURBOTECH is developing an energy storage system capable of powering the hybrid-electric aircraft of the future. The idea is to develop regenerative cycle turbogenerators based on small turbines that recover energy from exhaust gases to reduce fuel consumption. By recharging batteries in-flight, the turbogenerators claim to improve the endurance of electric aircrafts by 10x — enabling significant weight and cost savings. The turbogenerators can produce electricity from virtually any type of renewable flammable material, including bio-fuel, bio-gas, hydrogen and conventional fuels.

  • Keysight Technologies

    Keysight Technologies’ can trace its origins back to the original Hewlett-Packard business founded in 1939 by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. In 1999, the HP spun off Agilent Technologies in 1999. Five years later, Agilent spun off Keysight Technologies as a wireless, semiconductor and aerospace test and measurement company.

    Significant news in 2019 includes the partnership with Marvin Test Solutions to develop advanced beamformer integrated circuit (IC) test technology to accelerate the production of high performance 5G chips and test associated mmWave antenna systems. To ensure reliable and efficient 5G mmWave communications, the performance of critical elements that form part of the beamformer chips need to be rigorously tested under linear and nonlinear conditions.

    Also noteworthy is the company’s simulation software that is being used for rapid development, integration and test of sophisticated electronic warfare (EW) systems with real-time RF modeling. Software and hardware simulation systems are needed so engineers can test their EW designs by easily generating specific RF environments.

  • Zuken

    Zuken is a Japanese-based company that started out in CAD systems in 1976. The company’s software is primarily used for designing printed circuit boards (PCBs), Multi-Chip Modules (MCM), and for the engineering of electrotechnical, wiring, wiring harness, pneumatics and hydraulics applications.

    Recently, Zuken moved firmly into the systems-of-systems engineering and model-based-systems engineering (MBSE) spaces with the acquisition of ViTech. This acquisition required the approval of the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Vitech was a US company with more than 25 years of industry experience in systems engineering.

    In the fall of 2019, Zuken reinforced it’s presence in the world of digital twins by agreeing to develop system design and manufacturing process interfaces to Dassault Systèmes (DS) 3DEXPERIENCE platform. Zuken will provide electronic libraries and design data management capabilities within DS’s platform to enable cross-discipline systems engineering and traceability.

    In particular, Zuken’s component management process will permit the transfer, synchronization and authorization of component metadata and related files between the databases of the two companies. Zuken’s integration will enable creation and lifecycle management of electronic systems from the Dassault Systemes’s platform.

  • Altium

    Altium was founded in 1985 by Nick Martin as a PCB Computer-Aided Design (CAD) vendor. The company has continued to improve its original product over the last several decades, e.g., Altium Designer. Improvements in 2019 provide for a faster schematic editor, high-speed design and enhanced interactive router for PCB design.

    This year, the company also unveiled a cloud-based application for CAD component management. It may seem un-glamorous but selecting and managing components in the development of a PCB is critical to design and cost.

    The effective creation and reuse of component data in the PCB design process, including footprints, schematic symbols, and 3D models, is critical in meeting tight time-to-market windows. Until now, most PCB designers have created and stored component data in private file systems rather than in a shared, managed, and maintained library. Others have tried to use shared spreadsheets or proprietary databases. These outdated approaches led to multiple re-design cycles due to redundant, inaccurate or outdated component data that is often discovered only late in the product development process, when board designs are sent to manufacturers.

  • Applied Wave Research (AWR)

    Several former companies providing EDA tools (like CST and AWR), FPGA boards systems (like DINI) and design services (like eSilicon) have been “removed” through acquisitions from the official list of EDA companies. Yet the brands and product live on either as the original brand or under the flag of the acquiring company. Let’s look at the most recent of these acquired EDA vendors.

    AWR was founded in 1994 to improve the design efficiency for radio frequency and microwave circuit and system design. After several prior acquisitions, AWR was acquired by National Instruments (NI) in 2011. A further acquisition by Cadence was announced in late 2019.

    AWR software is used for radio frequency (RF), microwave and high frequency analog circuit and system design. Recently, The Italian National Institute for Astro Physics of the Institute of Radio Astronomy (INAF-IRA) used NI AWR software to design the circuitry of the receiver chains for a multi-channel heterodyne receiver antenna for radio astronomy applications operating across the 2.3–8.2 GHz RF band.  

    Large-scale surveys using highly sensitive electronics are an essential tool for new discoveries in radio astronomy. INAF designers were challenged to develop, fabricate, and test a room temperature, multi-channel heterodyne receivers needed for radio astronomy applications. AWR software helped in the critical modeling and design of the phased array for reflector observing systems (PHAROS) which uses a super-cooled feed with an analog beamformer.


    February 25 – Day 1 – Introduction to EDA and the tools

    Announcing Heidi Barnes as Winner of the DesignCon 2017 Engineer of the Year Award

    John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Electronic design automation (EDA) are the software tools used for designing electronic systems, such as system-on-chip (SoC) integrated circuits and printed circuit boards. The tools work in a design-verification flow that chip designers use to analyze and develop semiconductor chips.

But the EDA tool market has gone through massive consolidation over the couple of decades. Which companies are left? We’ll find out.


Back in 2013, Honda worked with UC-Davis to launch a smart home project that would consume zero net energy. It was a bold experiment and a technical IoT marvel. Human dwellers occupied the home along with over 230 built-in sensors. Both provided a wealth of data and feedback that yielded several surprising results. Foremost was the importance of collecting data in a real-life environment, analyzing it and then acting on that analysis to try out new conditions and improved technologies. Six years later, the data and details of this project have been compiled into 5 key lessons learned, which will be reviewed shortly.

First, a bit of background on the beginnings of this project are needed. Before the smart house could be built, all aspects of its design, operation and sustainability had to be understood and balanced. Even the home’s site selection was chosen to ensure the best exposure for the rooftop solar panels. Every detail of the overall design was similarly reviewed with a collaborative team consisting of an architect, HVAC designer, electrical/electronic and mechanical engineers, construction certification members, and Honda experts. Heating, cooling, lighting, operation of appliances, and water reuse activities were designed together to support zero net energy consumption while allowing the occupants to live comfortably.

From the human occupant perspective, the goal was not to significantly change specific behavior patterns. For example, if the occupants had to wash dishes, shower or run laundry, then the home had to respond immediately. If the timing of these activities required excessive use of the energy grid, then the Honda-designed Home Energy Management System (HEMS) would intervene to allow them to continue their daily routine, as well as return extra power to the grid if possible.  

The HEMS, located in the smart home’s garage, was a hardware and software system that monitored, controlled and optimize electrical generation and consumption throughout the home’s microgrid. It stored solar energy during the day and was capable of “listening” to the grid to ensure power was only drawn at the most carbon-efficient times.

Image Source: Honda Smart Home System – HEMS and EV in Garage

The project has proven to be a success. Located on the West Village campus of the University of California, Davis, the home as annually produced more energy from renewable sources than it consumes annually, including enough energy to power smart car (e.g., a Honda Fit EV) for daily commuting. Energy management systems were essential to maintaining efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems within the house.

Other sustainability factors, such as water-use, were also managed and controlled. The result a home with three times more water-efficiency than a typical U.S. home.

Proof of the zero-net energy consumption is available from yearly data accessible to anyone on everyone on the download tab of the Honda Smart Home site.

Image Source: Honda Smart Home – Data
Using an array of sensors and an external compute platform, FreeMove gives industrial robotics spatial awareness to sense and react to people and objects around them. (Image source: Veo Robotics)

Don’t get rid of your old industrial robot yet. You may be able to upgrade it into a collaborative robot.

A big part of the move to smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 is the implementation of more collaborative robots (or cobots) – machines that can safely work alongside humans without the need to be placed in cages or barriers. Most major robotics companies (and a number of startups) offer cobots today. But one of the big obstacles, particularly for smaller factories, is the cost of implementing collaborative machines.

Veo Robotics is going after that pain point, and working to make industrial robots safer, with a new sensor platform called FreeMove. The FreeMove system consists of an array of four sensors that can be mounted onto an industrial robot. Using an external processing engine and software suite, FreeMove bestows any robot with spatial awareness to avoid people and obstacles around it. The company says its engine maps and classifies workspaces in real time, performing “Speed & Separation Monitoring” in accordance with ISO/TS 15066 and ISO 10218 standards

“Industry trends like shorter product cycles, mass customization, and increasing demands mean that fully automating manufacturing process steps has become much more costly in terms of both time and capital,” Veo Robotics’ co-founder and CEO, Patrick Sobalvarro, told Design News. “The FreeMove system will make manufacturing more flexible and efficient – all while reducing capital and operating expenses.”

Once installed, FreeMove will instruct a robot to slow down or pause when a human or unrecognized object gets too close until the person is at a safe distance again. But this goes beyond simple proximity detection. Veo’s computer vision system can monitor movement to predict where a person might end up as they go about their work. This means a robot using FreeMove can anticipate a potential accident rather than passively waiting and simply reacting on the fly.

The biggest draw for FreeMove is that it is a robot agnostic system – meaning it can be implemented into machines already on the factory floor. Veo Robotics has said it partnered with major robotics companies, including ABB, Fanuc, Kuka, and Yaskawa, in the development of FreeMove.

“The FreeMove Sensors are custom dual-channel, 3D time-of-flight sensors with active IR illumination,” Sobalvarro said. “Four to eight sensors are mounted on the workcell periphery to cover the volume of the safeguarded space. With dual-channel architecture, they can be part of a safety certified solution.”

Sobalvarro said that the number of sensors and their placement can vary from robot models. The sensor placement “is a function of the cell size and the level of complexity and ‘clutter’ in the workcell,” he said. “More complicated workcells would require more sensors, and the Veo system can support up to eight. One could imagine simple applications where fewer than four sensors could be used, but our system ships with four, and we recommend users install a minimum of four.”

Those sensors then connect to the FreeMove engine, an external compute platform that is responsible for processing image data from the sensors and implementing the algorithms necessary for the robot to monitor its surroundings and operate safely.

The FreeMove Engine is an external compute platform that handles processing the data from the FreeMove sensors. (Image source: Veo Robotics)

“The FreeMove Engine is CPU-based,” Sobalvarro said. “GPUs are powerful parallel processors, and we used them in early development, but the failure rate information and lifetime availability of the devices made them an inappropriate choice for this environment. We use Intel server-class processors in a dual-motherboard configuration for redundancy.”

Adding this sort of middleman into the compute process does raise concerns about latency. Sobalvarro acknowledges this, but said it can be accounted for. “Indeed, there is latency from the Veo sensor capture and system processing time, which is currently 100 milliseconds and has to be accounted for in the protective separation distance calculation,” he said. “Of course, there are other latencies, such as robot controller latencies and robot inertia, which, depending on the controller and robot combination, can be material.”

Potential cost savings aside. How do robots outfitted with FreeMove perform in comparison to ready-made or purpose-built cobots? For Sobalvarro and the FreeMove team the advantage is less about outperforming existing cobots and more about leveraging the strengths of industrial robots and bringing them into a collaborative space. The aim is to marry the dexterity and judgment advantages of purpose-built cobots with the power and speed of industrial machines.

“Power and force limited robots (PFL), also known as ‘collaborative robots’ are considered safe to work near humans because they stop on human contact,” Sobalvarro explained. “However, this imposes two limitations on PFL robots—first, they must be small, weak, and slow, and most industrial robot applications require longer reach, larger payloads, and speed. Second, a PFL robot whose end effector or payload is itself dangerous—for example, a sharp piece of metal—must still be caged or guarded by some other means.”

The system will also include a software suite, FreeMove Studio, that will allow for custom configurations, sensor data monitoring, and monitoring the health of the robot.

Veo says it plans to submit FreeMove for safety certification in early 2020 and expects to receive final certification by the end of that year. In the meantime the company is offering an application development kit (ADK) for those who would like to get a jump start on developing production applications with FreeMove.

“The ADK is an early release of the FreeMove system for use in controlled settings with redundant safety provisions,” Sobalvarro said. “Working with customers, we’ve already identified some common application patterns for which we see broad applicability, and our hope is that users will think of new ways to apply the FreeMove system to build applications with flexible human-machine interaction.”

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!


Of all professions, musicians are certainly the most attached to the craftsmanship of their instruments. In an age where repetitive tasks are increasingly assigned to machinery, recreating the magic of a custom-made guitar is an invaluable advantage.  

Fender, symbol of musical revolution whose products are associated to artists such as Jimi Hendrix, are now providing their customers with an online guitar mass customization tool. The service allows users to choose between several famous designs, wood patterns and colors to make every guitar unique. This service demonstrates that customization is not only possible, but profitable.

automation, mass customization, batch manufacturing, custom products
With the help of versatile machinery, repetitive tasks can be automated despite variation between products. (Image source: EU Automation)

An industry trend involving mass customizable products has been predicted as far back as 1992 by author B. Joseph Pine II. In the following years, established brands have attempted to test the waters around the optimal compromise between personalization and low-cost production. From editable Marmite jar labels to Coca Cola logos being replaced with consumers’ names, customization has demonstrated its efficacy in attracting the public eye.

According to Capgemini, personalized marketing is a priority for 90 per cent of all marketing and communication professionals. To achieve this goal, however, it is necessary to stay updated on customer trends to ensure your product is customized in a desirable way.

Target a Larger Market

Successfully pivoting from a mass production system to one focused on mass customization can be challenging. Manufacturing often incentivizes highly specialized machinery, making custom production lines for every variation of a product an inefficient tactic. The difficulties customization brings towards scalability can appear to cancel out the advantageous flexibility small producers benefit from.

While the shift towards personalized products may be challenging, the rewards it offers decisively outweigh the costs. As customers can create a stronger feeling of ownership over customized items, customers that were previously outside of your target audience are now more likely to find value in your product.

Most importantly, customized items require user input to be produced in the first place. This level of communication between customer and manufacturer ensures that production accurately mirrors demand, reducing costs for storage and money lost in unsold goods.

Opportunity to Automate

Flexibility is just one example of how customization can benefit businesses willing to invest in small batch manufacturing. With the help of versatile machinery, repetitive tasks can be automated despite variation between products. This approach allows manufacturers to have one standardized approach, saving significant margins in organizational and management costs.

One example of a small business that benefitted from automating mass customization is Voodoo manufacturing. The Brooklyn-based 3D printing company has integrated mobile cobots in its production line, using them to free up printers once their current task is complete. Helpfully, the mechanical arms are able to handle products of multiple sizes and shapes, allowing high degrees of customization.

Voodoo manufacturing immediately noticed the benefits of their approach. Since no human workers are needed for a batch to be produced, the 3D printers can keep producing products throughout the night. More efficient use of machinery allows the manufacturer not only to take on larger and more challenging projects, but also to deliver existing products in almost half the time.

The Software and Hardware Involved

Mass customization can be demanding on the software capabilities of a manufacturer, as well as its hardware.

For those truly looking for the most advanced software tactic, digital twinning allows for a manufacturing process that can predict failures ahead of time. Simulating your manufacturing process using data from smart sensors could allow batches to be virtually tested. Testing if products or cosmetic customization are preferable ahead of time allows manufacturers to choose the option that is most effective, without wasting valuable materials.

However, when starting a mass customization process, obtaining new hardware will be the first step to a new line of production. Having quick and reliable access to new and obsolete machinery can provide a further degree of freedom to customization. In fact, sourcing the right industrial components is central to creating a manufacturing process that is not only efficient, but also malleable to new designs, particularly if customization requests span outside of the expected fields.

If you want to join the mass customization movement or test the waters with products outside of your company’s traditional repertoire, find out how EU Automation’s global network of industrial automation parts can help you to take on the same levels of customization, workmanship and pride as the customer guitar creators. Jimi Hendrix may have sung “Wait Until Tomorrow,” but there really is no time like today. 

Mark Howard is the North America country manager at industrial equipment supplier EU Automation. Mark and his multi-lingual team scour the globe to find quality obsolete, new and reconditioned parts to get industrial machines back up and running.


According to the Institute for Supply Management, manufacturing in the US has been contracting for three months. That’s the first time since 2009. An ISM number below 50% constitutes a contraction in manufacturing. In August we saw 49.5% in September 47.8%, and in October 48.3%. While the reports are fanning fears of recession, to many manufacturers, layoffs are not likely. They still don’t have enough workers.

manufacturing, decline, recession, job openings, US job growth, manufacturing job growth, bureau of labor statistics
Manufacturing job growth has not been affected by the manufacturing slump — so far. (Image source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

There is a surprising number of jobs going unfilled. In September there were almost 500,000 jobs open in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a recent report, Deloitte predicted that between 2018 and 2028 persistent skills shortage could risk $2.5 trillion in economic output for manufacturing.

Too Many Unfilled Manufacturing Jobs

Can we have a contracting manufacturing sector and a massive overhang of unfilled manufacturing jobs? Apparently so. The chief economist at MUFG Union Bank, Chris Rupkey, ominously noted, “The manufacturing sector has broken and is now in a recession.” Yet the manufacturing decline may be overstated.

In an attempt to bring clarity to the conflicting data. QuickBooks, conducted a survey of more than 1000 manufacturing executives and hiring managers. The results suggest that reports of a manufacturing recession may be premature:

  • 42% of manufacturers are finding it moderately difficult to hire skilled workers.
  • It can take from three weeks to three months to fill a skilled manufacturing position.
  • 32% of manufacturers found that intermediate-level skill jobs were most difficult to fill. Managerial-level positions follow closely behind at 27%.
  • 44% say potential employees are most deficient in problem solving and critical thinking.

The survey also identified the most in-demand job titles as:

  • Production supervisor
  • Machinist
  • Picker/packer

The report was produced by Ben Olveri, author at Intuit Quick Books. He noted that all of the respondents to the survey were in the US. He also pointed out that automation will play a significant role in dealing with the workforce shortage. “About 37% of respondents reported they were moderately likely to add automation capabilities to their operations in the next 12 months, while 18.9% said they were extremely likely to,” Olveri told Design News. “Based on our report, automation appears to play a significant role in the future of manufacturing operations.”

Olveri put some of the blame for the workforce gap on the US education system. “Given what has been reported about the skills gap in manufacturing and a lack of STEM graduates in the US, it wasn’t too surprising to learn 44% of respondents reported that potential hires lacked problem-solving and critical thinking skills,” said Olveri.


He noted there were some data points that were unexpected. “The most surprising result in the study was that 78% of those surveyed reported they have plans to hire more skilled workers within the next year,” said Olveri. “In light of recent reports that manufacturing is contracting in the US, manufacturers are still looking to hire more skilled workers for their businesses.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!